The food industry is still reeling from the knockout punch it suffered at the hands of the recent Peanut Corp. of America debacle, responsible for numerous deaths and sicknesses. Consequently, track-and-trace initiatives are being examined a lot more closely as the industry grapples with how to enhance the granularity of visibility into the supply chain. The goal is to pinpoint developing problems immediately to ensure safe food to consumers, eliminate the possibility of a calamitous recall and being prepared to react to a bioterrorism attack on the food supply.
A federal report released March 26, 2009 found the government’s system for tracing foods is “riddled with holes.” Investigators for Health and Human Services found they were able to follow only five of 40 foods throughout the supply chain. Although federal law mandates record-keeping procedures enabling the tracking of suspect foods one step back and one step forward, an astonishing 25 percent of company managers were unaware of these requirements.
These shortcomings at the federal level underscore the crucial responsibility the food industry faces first, to self-monitor and second, to work with government to develop fail-safe and comprehensive food safety standards and systems.
An AMR Research study last year found that, on average, it takes the industry about 34 days to enact a recall. Consequently, only about 40 percent of the affected product can be retrieved because it has either been consumed or thrown out.
As Rodney Bias cautions, “Preparation is the biggest part of a recall and it helps it go much more smoothly without any preparation.” Bias is vice president, regulatory compliance for Inmar CLS Reverse Logistics in Winston-Salem, NC.
To prepare for a potential recall, Inmar CLS recommends that companies ask themselves where they are at risk in their supply chains. “We help manufacturers and retailers develop protocols and organizational teams that would be involved in a recall,” says Ashley Kerman, director of recall client services. “We always tell our clients that the event of a recall is low probability, but the event itself carries a very high consequence.”
Technology is paving the way for standardization within the food industry, with an eye toward delivering safe food and quickly reacting to a recall. Congress is currently reviewing H.R. 875 Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. “This is the first time I have ever seen a major piece of legislation of this kind,” says John Ryan, PhD, project administrator and administrator for the Sate of Hawaii Department of Agriculture in Honolulu. The bill’s goal is to consolidate the piece-meal standards that currently exist, creating a centralized food safety group.
Global standards are also evolving in the industry, notes Jeff Tazelaar, RFID product manager for Lowry Computer Products in Brighton, MI. “We are seeing, through the initiatives of EPC Global and GS1, the development of standards for identifying products and sharing the associated data across the enterprise, which weren’t there several years ago.”
Other food segments are watching closely the effects of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), with an eye to possibly mimic the initiative’s capabilities with its focus on identifying specific lot numbers. The produce industry’s move to more specific product identification through the PTI is a major step forward for the food industry, says Steve Arens, director of industry development for GS1 US in Lawrenceville, NJ. GS1 is a not-for-profit organization—with over 100 country-specific entities globally—dedicated to the adoption and implementation of standards-based, global supply chain solutions.
Over 200,000 companies use GS1-US for trading-partner collaboration and for maximizing the speed, efficiency, visibility and traceability of their goods moving around the world, says Arens.